Early in Valley of the Yetis, protagonist Ajay Ghale sees one of the mythical beasts for the first time. "What the f**k is that?" he asks. It's a yeti, Ajay. It's a yeti.
Valley of the Yetis is a new downloadable expansion for the 2014 open-world action game Far Cry 4. It came out yesterday, and since then, I've spent a healthy chunk of time -- about six or seven hours so far -- working my way through it. I haven't finished it yet, but I think I've knifed enough dudes, shotgunned enough wolves, and rodeoed enough abominable snowmen to have a pretty solid sense of what Valley of the Yetis all about. Here are some things I can confirm:
1) It does indeed have yetis. 2) Far Cry 4 was a really fun game. 3) Only chumps use mini-maps. 4) This DLC is good.
Valley of the Yetis exists apart from Far Cry 4 itself. You load it from a separate option in the menu screen, and none of your progress in the main game carries over. When the story starts -- with good Mr. Ajay crash-landing in the high Himalayas while on some sort of recon mission -- your progress, skills, and arsenal have all been reset to zero.
Ajay finds himself stranded in a snowy, mountain-encircled valley that is mysteriously named "The Valley of the Yetis." Why might it be called that? What secrets might lurk in this valley? Hmm.
Turns out the valley is populated exclusively by deadly wild animals and berserk religious fanatics, all of whom are more than happy to kill Ajay should they see him. Ajay quickly takes over a centrally-located radio outpost and tries to call for rescue. Bummer news: His friends can't get to him for a little bit, so he's going to have to hole up at the outpost and survive until they can.
Valley of the Yetis performs a neat inversion of the traditional Far Cry deal. In Far Crys 3 and 4 the player spent most of the game expanding their influence across the map by gradually conquering enemy outposts. Valley turns inward and focuses on repeatedly defending just the one outpost. At night, Ajay's home base will be attacked by waves of fanatic soldiers. Those enemies will get more and more powerful with each subsequent night, until their ranks include rocket snipers, heavy soldiers, packs of dogs, and even… can you guess? (Guess yetis… please guess yetis…) Yes! Yetis!
The whole thing takes place on a moderately sized map that looks like this:
During the day, Ajay can venture out across the valley in search of upgrades, sidequests, and a main story mission or two. Completing objectives earns tons of cash and XP, meaning that players will find themselves unlocking full flights of skills and crafting oodles of upgrades in almost no time flat. You'll pump Ajay up with familiar Far Cry 4 abilities, but you'll do it so quickly that you can really just focus on the abilities you want (moving fast while sneaking, increased health) and ignore the ones that don't matter as much in this context (grenade takedowns, faster repairs).
Valley's formula proves to be a winning one: Go out when the sun rises, come home at night to fight. Time stands still during the day, so you're not racing the clock. You can trigger the night battle when you're good and ready. (I do wish there were a timed hardcore mode that gave you limited daylight, but oh well.)
The most important side missions you'll do out in the valley unlock defensive upgrades for your base. Steal an enemy truck and drive it to base and you'll have a free fire trap on your eastern approach. Do some creative rock climbing and you'll find parts for a mounted machine gun to help you cover the north.
Eventually, Ajay's base will be bristling with defenses -- guns and grenade launchers on every side, explosive booby traps and minefields all over the place, and even wild animals he can unleash on incoming troops. It all gives a nice sense of progression, and while there's no way to customise how you've got things arranged, it's still fun to survey your lines before a battle, check your defenses, and formulate strategies.
When each night's assault gets underway, the resulting shitshow is like a way more violent version of Home Alone. This is my base, and I have to defend it. The night fights are unpredictable and difficult, and only now, on the fifth day, do I feel like I've got enough upgrades and weapons unlocked that I can handle most every comer without risking death.
Each assault comes in waves, and the enemy will begin by calling out their vector of attack over the radio. (Ajay has access to their radio frequency, because video game bad guys are very stupid.) "We're coming from the north!" they will say. A flare goes up. You run to the north wall and take cover. Maybe there's distant fire burning on a far ridge, or lightning coursing through the sky. You see soldiers start to climb over the ridges in the distance. You trigger a booby trap. It explodes.
"Send in the fire units!" they will say. Stuff starts burning. A heavy soldier breaks through a wall to the south. You're scrambling for cover. You hear dogs barking. "We're sending more troops from the east!" Just when things are teetering on the brink, you hear a roar. It's yeti time.
Over the past four nights in the game, I've come to know my base very well. There's the northern approach…
…which is where my main gate is. I usually lay some mines there for when someone gets through. It's a pretty clear approach, except for the cliffs to the right, which my mounted gun can't quite hit. Then there's the eastern approach…
…which can be pretty easy to cover, as long as I light up that fire trap early on and funnel guys toward the northern gates. The western approach is the easiest…
…because I unlocked a grenade launcher that lets me fire down the hill and because, as it turns out, holding high ground really is a lot easier than holding low ground. Speaking of that, there's the southern approach…
…which is spread out to the point that it's kind of a mess, particularly because incoming troops have a significant elevation advantage.
In addition to the base defence stuff, there's a "proper" story going on in Valley of the Yetis, but it's a non-starter. There's a bad guy who occasionally yells at Ajay over the radio, but I've never actually seen him and don't care about him. There are some friendly NPCs, like your helicopter pilot, who you have to rescue from time to time. The tone isn't perhaps as self-serious as Far Cry 4, but it's nowhere near as joyful and silly as the yetis in the title would suggest. This isn't Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, nor anywhere close. It all just kinda lays there.
Still, the tale of Ajay Ghale, Dork in Trouble is reason enough to cart yourself from point A to point B, largely because that core, vaguely Minecrafty loop -- go out and explore during the day, stock up and return to defend at night -- has so much going for it. That loop helps the DLC feel fresh: the decision to focus on base-defence leaves Valley of the Yeti feeling distinct from the game it accompanies.
As for the Yetis themselves, well… let's just say that you're finally going to have a use for that elephant gun you always admired but never wanted to carry around. They're tough bastards, they can take you out in a hit or two, and they can run as fast as you can. You're not safe from them even in a vehicle, and you'll probably learn the hard way which weapons won't kill them. That said, they can definitely be defeated -- you can even jump onto one's back and take it down, Monster Hunter-style. The game's loading screens actually have a helpful tip for you in that regard:
Good to know!
I put around 50 hours into Far Cry 4, and if Valley had simply been "that, but with snow," I probably would have felt some fatigue despite how much I enjoy creeping through bushes with a bow and arrow. Fortunately, that's not the case. Valley is instead a smart, well-paced remix of a lot of the things Far Cry 4 did well, and it's fast enough on its feet to keep from feeling grindy or boring. Its base-defence idea is good enough that I hope we see it expanded in future Far Cry games, and the abominable beasts in the title are more than abominable enough to have you scrambling for heavy artillery.
Even this guy approves.